Synopses & Reviews
The bible of economics, Smith's book laid the foundation for contemporary economic thought. Like Marx's "Capital" or Machiavelli's "Prince", the book also offered a radically new vision of society as a whole (one in which decisions are based on economic interest). It remains the bedrock of economic thinking, and this paperback classic edition includes a new introduction by Robert Reich, a critical essay by economist Edwin Canaan along with notes and a subject index.
About the Author
Adam Smith was born in a small village in Kirkcaldy, Scotland in 1723. He entered the University of Glasgow at age fourteen, and later attended Balliol College at Oxford. After lecturing for a period, he held several teaching positions at Glasgow University. His greatest achievement was writing The Wealth of Nations
(1776), a five-book series that sought to expose the true causes of prosperity, and installed him as the father of contemporary economic thought. He died in Edinburgh on July 19, 1790.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
Introduction by Robert Reich
Commentary by R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner
Adam Smith’s masterpiece, first published in 1776, is the foundation of modern economic thought and remains the single most important account of the rise of, and the principles behind, modern capitalism. Written in clear and incisive prose, The Wealth of Nations articulates the concepts indispensable to an understanding of contemporary society; and Robert Reich’s Introduction both clarifies Smith’s analyses and illuminates his overall relevance to the world in which we live. As Reich writes, “Smith’s mind ranged over issues as fresh and topical today as they were in the late eighteenth century—jobs, wages, politics, government, trade, education, business, and ethics.”
Includes a Modern Library Reading Group Guide
1. Many of the concepts developed by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations
-the nature of free trade, laissez-faire, the division of labor-were revolutionary notions in 1776, and remain central to contemporary liberal economic thought. Discuss contemporary economics in light of some of the key notions elaborated by Smith.
2. Smith famously writes: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love. . . .” What does Smith mean by “self-love” or “self-interest”?
3. As R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner write, The Wealth of Nations “was not only an intellectual achievement . . . embracing as it does the explanation of complex social relations on the basis of a few principles, but also a work which provided practical prescriptions for the problems of the day.” Discuss these aspects of Smiths work-analytical and prescriptive or historical; what is their relation? Is the one necessary for an appreciation of the other?
4. In his Introduction to this volume, Robert Reich notes that “The Wealth of Nations is resolutely about human beings-their capacities and incentives to be productive, their overall well-being, and the connection between productivity and well-being.” How does this statement, taken as a point of departure, shed light on Smiths book and its significance?
5. Although he is considered the founder of political economy (or modern economic thought more generally), Adam Smith considered himself a moral philosopher. How does looking at him in this way-as someone fundamentally concerned with questions of ethics-change your understanding or appreciation of his work?